How President Obama lost the Iraq War

In war, as in anything, victory is the result of hard work. Photo: Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY, August 1, 2013 — After one of the greatest military comebacks in generations for the United States, Iraq is now on its way to becoming more dangerous than it was before the American-led invasion.

Iraq’s descent into terror and chaos is the unfortunate result of President Obama’s ideologically driven war policy. In fact, on the verge of victory, the US under Obama has now lost all the hard-earned gains in Iraq.  


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Last week, al Qaeda in Iraq executed two successful prison breaks, highlighting an increase in terror-related violence in the once-liberated country. The group set free 500 prisoners and killed 29 Iraqi police, according to the Defense One blog.

Consider the possibility of a successful prison beak if US Soldiers had been on guard, or even merely helping to train the native police force there.

But there are no American troops in Iraq. While the US military has its share of problems, it is undeniably the most effective and well-armed military in the world, and knows a things or two about urban, counter-insurgency warfare. Iraq could use some of America’s help.

Post-surge Iraq was a success story, on balance, for a US military stretched thin since 9/11. The initial invasion, though controversial worldwide, was highly successful. American-led coalition forces captured Baghdad in less than three weeks.


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But in 2007 – 2008 Senator Obama, fueled by a virulent anti-war movement in the US, was elected president, partly on the promise to end the war in Iraq.

End it he did, just in time to let the victory slip away. Al Qaeda’s recent strength is merely the latest evidence of America’s final defeat there.

But military defeat is never inevitable. It is often the result of poor planning, poor execution, or poor follow through.

In 2007, President Bush announced a troop surge that flouted the domestic concerns over the justification for the war. But Bush had been consistent about winning whether or not those initial justifications had been vindicated or not.


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General David Petraeus’s leadership is credited for the effective use of the additional troops, and by 2009, when Obama took office, violence was down markedly—by some estimates as much as 80 percent. Parliamentary elections had just been held, and Iraqi forces had official assumed control over Baghdad’s Green Zone.

By almost any measure, Obama inherited a war that had been won.

But he failed at basics of presiding over a Republic at war, being unable, or unwilling, to negotiate a status of forces agreement (SOFA) with Iraq. Obama’s predecessor had negotiated just such an agreement in 2008. Rather than working out an updated SOFA, the Obama administration let the 2008 pact lapse, and all US forces departed Iraq at the end of 2011.

The president and his vice president assured the American people that they had tried to get an agreement with the Iraqis, who they claimed had proved to be intransigent. But the Iraqi government was stubborn for the Bush administration, too. Quite simply, Obama couldn’t or wouldn’t get a deal done.

More than 4,000 American service men and women gave their lives in the Iraq War. George W. Bush staked his presidency on it. American taxpayers spent a trillion dollars.

In combat, all the resources of the military were brought to bear figuring out how to defeat an insurgency. Doctrine and weapons were developed.

The Iraqis voted and rallied around their infant government at great risk. The new democracy stood up against the dangerous Syrian and Iranian regimes.

The upside was enormous. A democratic country, relatively friendly to the US and its interests, between Syria and Iran, could become a nexus of freedom and economic growth in the region. A safe and secure Iraq would be a glaring symbol that terrorist groups couldn’t scare away the Great Powers. It could have become a model for budding democratic movements.  

But it was all too inconvenient for Obama, and now the country’s security situation is disintegrating.

The president who tried to take credit for the Arab Spring, who wanted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak ousted, and who wanted to help Libya achieve a democratic rebirth, turned his back on the best hope for a stable, pro-Western, democracy in the Arab world.

Now its al Qaeda’s turn to make a comeback in Iraq. 


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Rich Stowell

Rich Stowell has written about politics and travel for the Washington Times Communities since 2011. He is a soldier in the Utah National Guard and a fellow at the Center for Communication and Community at the University of Utah. Rich is the author of "Nine Weeks: A Teacher's Education in Army Basic Training"and continues to blog about military issues at “My Public Affairs.”

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